Today’s the last day of our National Infertility Awareness Week blog series! Every day this week, we’ve featured one of our Circle of Support Sponsors as they share helpful information and advice about infertility, your options and coping. Today’s post to round out the week is brought to us by Bronze Sponsor Women & Infants Center for Reproduction & Infertility.
By Emily Spurrell, Ph.D.
Infertility requires endurance. By definition most couples have been trying to conceive for at least six months but the process can span years. The experience feels even longer as women live with infertility, wishing every day that it was over yesterday. Continuing with the process of trying to conceive they risk repeated disappointments with no guarantee that their years of trying, postponing other aspects of their lives, will lead to the fulfillment of their wish to have a child.
So, if infertility requires endurance, women may be better able to navigate the experience by planning for a longer course. If we know we have to pace ourselves for an extended journey we prepare ourselves differently than if we think it is only a short trek. Sometimes, the journey is shorter, but if you expect it to be brief, and think that the journey will be over any minute it can seem catastrophic and debilitating when it is not. It becomes hard to go on.
There are strategies to achieve an outlook and balance in life that can assist women in the time that they are engaged in the process of trying to become parents. Let’s call these endurance builders.
First, for most women, infertility leads to a feeling of helplessness with a sense of loss of control that can encompass their entire self-experience. This emanates from many different places: the plan one had in place to have a family is not working, the equation of work hard and you will succeed is suddenly inaccurate, your body is not doing what it is supposed to do, and your entire peer group is getting pregnant easily.
Add to this that women often don’t feel like themselves during the process “I used to be happy for other people, and now I hate that I can’t feel the way I want towards them”. Finally, women’s bodies and mood can be impacted by medications associated with treatment so even their bodies feel unfamiliar or out of their control. Clearly, finding ways to rebalance and regain a sense of control in one’s life during the process is helpful to endure a potentially long process. Taking charge diminishes helplessness as well.
There are multiple ways to achieve a greater sense of control. Making sure treatment does not take over all aspects of one’s life or schedule is one important way to gain control. Don’t postpone vacations, job changes, or educational opportunities. Seeing progress and success in other endeavors can balance the disappointments and lack of control that comes with treatment.
Do things that make you feel good about yourself, or like the person you are accustomed to being. If it is too hard to attend a best friend’s baby shower, offer to help her clean up afterward, or ask her to go to lunch just the two of you instead. You can be the caring friend while also taking control of a difficult event.
With regard to your body, discover the ways that it works and is healthy. You can improve your diet, try yoga, meditation or acupuncture. You can practice relaxation techniques or increase your physical strength. There are many ways to exercise, set goals and improve health and well being that are complimentary to the treatment process. It is important to focus what you can do, not what you don’t have.
Another factor that can lead to fatigue with infertility is low mood, usually accompanied by a sense of hopelessness. Women experiencing infertility have had successive disappointments from month after month of not conceiving. Repeatedly experiencing “failure” is a sure path to low mood and hopelessness. These repeated disappointments lead women to fear that they will not achieve their aim of parenthood, that their lives will not be fulfilling and that they will live in perpetuity with the sense of loss and injustice. Clearly, if we are trying to achieve greater endurance to reach the destination, carrying the enormous burden of low mood is a handicap.
One way to manage mood is to differentiate between feelings and facts. You may feel sad, and hopeless, but the facts are that often pregnancy will occur, you will have choices ahead, and parenthood is achievable. This is not to imply that getting there is easy, but if you focus on the present, the burden of the present and a single disappointment is much less than the aggregate of infinite ones you anticipate in the future.
Future losses are fiction, not fact, they have not happened yet and may well not occur. To lessen the load of loss, why add more than you need to? Choose to take care of yourself in the present, identify what helps now and what doesn’t and pay attention to your negative thoughts anticipating more failures.
Infertility is a challenging and complex life stressor that requires strategies to manage the process over time. Learning endurance strategies can help couples not only survive the experience but negotiate future challenges, and expeditions, with greater confidence and resolve.
After 15 years of working with women and couples experiencing infertility, I have a deep respect for the arduousness of the journey. I also know that taking it a step at a time, and adjusting as circumstances require, everyone can reach their destination stronger and fulfilled.
About the Author
Emily Spurrell, Ph.D. graduated from Yale University and completed post-doctoral training at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School. She is currently an assistant clinical professor at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and the staff psychologist at the Center for Reproduction and Infertility at Women and Infants’ Hospital. Her areas of specialization and research are infertility and eating disorders.